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Bruce Goff

In an anything-goes era of architecture, Bruce Goff's designs still jarred.

The architect who apprenticed at 11 and shared in site selection in Japan at 78, mere weeks before his passing, was the maverick of all 20th-century mavericks.

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''There has never been a building built before, by anyone else or myself, that my client should have; we must work it out together,'' he declared four years ago. ''If I give the client only what he asks for, he may be temporarily satisfied with it for a while, but eventually, he will just get used to it.''

No one ever faulted the free-spirited Oklahoman for eyelid-closing designs. Neither his professional peers nor the wider audience got used to Goff.

The ''Michelangelo of Kitsch,'' said one critic. That was a minority opinion. Individualistic is more apt; eccentric, provocative, often inspiring. Goff took the organic architecture of his hero and mentor, Frank Lloyd Wright, to its extreme.

Though praised in Europe and Japan, his mixed materials, erratic forms, and free-wheeling buildings were less praised in the press and pronouncements of his native land and profession. As recently as this, his 78th year, Goff was ''up'' for the American Institute of Architect's Gold Medal. It went elsewhere.

Perhaps Goff lacked the self-praising spirit of his model, Wright; his soft-spoken deportment enabled him to win the admiration of colleagues at the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture. But it never put him on the front pages, which his inventive work - from the Tulsa, Oklahoma, Boston Avenue Church , drafted as a virtual teenager, to the Japanese Museum design included in the Whitney Museum review of new museum architecture (see Aug. 20 Monitor) - merited.

Goff's roots in Wright and his connection to more solid soil made him the disciple of ''organic architecture.'' For all the shaggy shingles, strangely sculptured rocks, tilted roofs, scrambled layouts, and varied shapes - diagonal or oval, hard edge or soft - for all his wild-eyed inventiveness on behalf of equally individualistic clients, Goff had a sense of the specific situation, the site.

Whether placed with a view of a Louisiana bayou or springing like an apparition from a Minnesota corn field, a Goff house knew where it lived.

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It also knew what it was. But it was not one thing over and over again.

Goff houses, in fact, call to mind a menagerie of animals rather than a repertoire of buildings: here an elephant trunk with floppy, orange wings (Harder House, Minnesota, 1970); there an owl-eyed, water-based gnome (Gryder House, Mississippi, 1960); elsewhere, a Darth Vaderesque cutaway concoction (Hyde House, Kansas, 1965).

Even more, they suggest a sample kit of materials, old and new, plastic and earth-hewn - materials ''Of the Earth,'' as Bill E. Peavler of the Oklahoma Historical Society titled his monograph on the man. Of the earth - as an exotic plant is of the earth, though, not as a waving field of wheat.

''I think,'' Mr. Peavler summed up Goff's work shortly after his Aug. 6 passing, ''he was one of the most visionary architects of our time.'' Define him as outcast or out-of-the-mainstream, Goff earned respect even from those who could or would never replicate his work.

Born in 1904 in Alton, Kan., this combined ''Mr. Fix-it'' and ''Yankee Tinkerer'' lacked a formal education. When a patron offered to supply that ''finishing'' later in life, Goff rejected it and wrote to architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright for confirmation.

Sullivan told him he spent his life trying to live down a formal schooling; Wright responded with, ''If you want to lose Bruce Goff, go to school.''

That Goff schooling had begun with an apprenticeship to Rush, Endacott & Rush in Oklahoma, where he was taken in tow by his jeweler-father at the age of 11. It led to a partnership at 25. At 30, Goff moved to Chicago, where he practiced and taught before going into the Army and returning to California.

The Oklahoma of his early schooling and career drew him back again; this time to the University of Oklahoma School of Architecture, which he headed.

There this self-assertive designer earned respect as an unobtrusive, caring teacher - a sharp contrast with both his architecture and his style of dress.

''He wore garish clothes as if to shock people, and his drawings were very avant-garde,'' Mabel Krank, director of that state's chapter of the American Institute of Architects, remembers. Historian Peavler remembers a meeeting in 1979, in which the then-75-year-old architect sported a dark-green satin shirt, Zuni bolo (Indian leather tie), and dark-green velvet pants. A generation earlier, Goff had similarly startled his fellow Oklahomans with his cardigan coats and turtleneck sweaters.

His abstract-expressionist houses in Bartlesville, Okla., assaulted conservative viewers in far more dramatic fashion. They also won prizes and a constituency of self-made millionaires ready to patronize a man possessed of the pioneer spirit that symbolized their own success.

Serving these clients in a far more docile way than his expressive designs might indicate, Goff's concern was ''not in style, but in what he could learn,'' says Robert Hogan, a University of Oklahoma professor.

''Things changed. His geometry changed. His concerns changed. He didn't deal with the same materials over and over.''

And yet, a year ago, the theme-oriented magazine Architecture and Urbanism labeled Goff a leader of ''a new architectural school, probably the only indigenous one in the United States.''

By and large, however, Goff's work inspired more in the way of positive and negative reaction - astonishment or admiration, bafflement or enthusiasm - than imitation. A designer of such strong convictions could scarcely serve copycats or become the textbook for a school.

''Work that embodies American ideals and that gives our architecture international prominence,'' his biographer David G. De Long of Columbia University summed up Goff's career in his Gold Medal recommendation.

''Overall the emphasis in these works is on the artistic and human as opposed to the mechanistic and dehumanized,'' he wrote.

If the sound of Goff's ''frozen music'' was discordant to many, its soaring statement marks him as the poet of organic architecture and a remarkable artist and humanist.

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